Choices, Challenges and Conquests

Hirushka Fernando – Director of Residential Sales at the Colombo City Centre

By his own description, Hirushka Fernando has enjoyed, and at times endured, a most dramatic career journey, fraught with choices, challenges and celebratory moments alike. Hirushka has conquered many fears and misfortunes to earn his current position as the Director of Residential Sales at the Colombo City Centre.

“My career began with merchandising. However, even though a fancy WTC office had everything to enthuse a school leaver, it wasn’t my cup of tea. Later, having passed through interviews in 2 international banks, I followed the trend in choosing. However, on my first day before I could submit my documents, I got a call from the other bank offering double the salary offered by the previous one. Being a youngster, the salary motivated me and that’s how my journey at Standard Chartered began on the 1st of June 2006. I was one of the tellers at the main branch and within a month, I was transferred to the branch closest to my home, where I mastered the operations in branch banking being the only teller there at the time. The following year, I joined the risk team and received exposure to the overall end to end operations. Within a couple of years, I was appointed as the Operations Manager of a branch.

The future was bright and I enjoyed a rapid growth in the first 3 years of my career. But my circumstances at home suddenly changed, and I was compelled to deal with unexpected and unpredictable conditions at a young age. I made a request to the bank’s management to change my role to sales, so that I would have the flexibility to move around. The reason I became a sales person was to find time to deal with my personal matters. As a Relationship Manager, I struggled and was in the bottommost 3 performers among 40 RM’s until I got my last warning from the Segment Head that I would be transferred to the furthest branch in a junior capacity. Having given up hopes in banking, I met my Manager. Her response was shocking, when she said “I still have faith in you” and gave me 6 months to bounce back. Having researched, I found that Japanese investors were interested in Sri Lanka, but due to the complexity of the necessary documentation no one was willing to open their accounts. I opened these, spending on my own for translating and couriering etc. In the beginning the effort seemed useless. But by the last quarter the record-breaking investments took place, not just saving my job, but making me the highest revenue generator for the full year. I believe I had the guidance of God in every step I took during those 6 months. I won the Best RM awards in the following years. In mid-2014, things suddenly changed again when my sister suffered from renal failure. This time the battle was to save her life. Therefore, in 2015, I decided to take a bold step and change my career path. I joined Fairway Holdings as a Business Development Manager in April 2015. All went well and it took me only a few months to show the numbers. In 2018, I received an offer from Colombo City Centre to head the sales arm of the Residences. Looking back, the journey has been quite dramatic, but I certainly enjoyed most of it.”

Speaking of his greatest strengths and how he utilizes them in his professional life, Hirushka explained, “I pursue solutions. I have the ability to see the positive element in anything. I hardly react, but I respond. when you focus on the solution, instead of harping on the issue and mourning, you save time. Also when my conscience is clear, it’s very easy to face anything. It may be a rumor or even the threat of losing my job, but it won’t scare me. At all times I have done my best. Life has been full of surprises. Some were good, most were not. I live with excitement to see what God has in store for me. I took over my position at CCC in 2018, just before the constitutional crisis took place with a sudden change in government. It happened to be the beginning point of many events that created turmoil in the market. VAT was imposed on apartments and the LKR depreciated drastically. The April attacks took place and the situation worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic. I dealt with everything that hindered sales and operations from day one. If I was a glass-half-empty person, I would have given up. Instead, as a team, we focused on completing the apartments while retaining the customers and converting sales whenever it was possible by providing benefits to the best of our ability. It wasn’t easy swimming against the rough waves, but positivity kept us moving towards our goal and we’re extremely proud to be the first to handover apartments in the vicinity of Colombo 02. I’m happy to say that we have in fact bypassed some of the eminent projects in the country that were launched before us in this aspect. I had to run the hardest lap in the race by taking over during the most difficult time. I’m thankful to the management of Abans and Next Story, the joint owners, for providing me with all the support I needed. I’m very communicative when it comes to business. To all my colleagues from other developments I have been most welcoming, and they can see our project at any time. I believe we need to enjoy a healthy bit of competition without being in individual camps and face challenges together. Our customers too stood with us, because we were open about the situation, allowing them to inspect their units at all times. So, for me, being open, honest and positive are the key strengths that help me to handle all situations.”

Describing the transition from Banking to Real Estate, Hirushka said, “Leaving Standard Chartered Bank to sell apartments sounded imprudent to many. Hardly anyone advised me positively on the matter. At SCB, we were trained to do sales through service. So, when I meet a customer, I first try to understand the need. This approach helped me. When the customers see you as an advisor, they place their trust in you. The mistake lies in trying to sell a 4-bedroom apartment to a customer who needs a 2 bedroom one. Instead if you understand that he needs only 2 bedrooms and advise him accordingly, you’ll end up concluding the sale. The fact that I worked under Mr. Hemaka De Alwis, the Chairman of Fairway Holdings was also a blessing. There were many times when he has told me not to get upset if I couldn’t sell apartments within a month as it’s not like selling credit cards. This kind of understanding encouraged me to be creative in order to find my own way of selling. You can get the best out of a person if you give them the freedom to think. In most cases, that freedom is not given or it’s misused. But with Hemaka and the management, it was perfectly balanced. The conversations with him helped me to know the depths of the industry. I’m certain that I made the right move at the right time. It proved me right when 5 front liners of SCB including 2 former bosses of mine joined Fairway after me. I humbly take the credit for being the first to test the waters.”

When questioned as to how the deprecation of the rupee has impacted the Real Estate industry of Sri Lanka, Hirushka responded, “Most Colombo apartments are quoted in USD, and the payments to the suppliers and contractors are also made in USD. When the depreciation exceeds the normal trends like it has in the past couple of years, it impacts the entire cycle of the investment and the forecasts. Because even though the market intends to attract foreign investors, it’s mostly Sri Lankans who buy apartments in Colombo spending rupees. This has been our experience. Therefore, the staggered payment values keep increasing and impact the affordability in the long run for the customer. To manage this, a relief is always expected and the developer cannot pass the relief to the customer unless there is an exemption from the suppliers. In order to retain sales, the developers provide benefits to the customer whenever possible in the form of discounts, special conversion rates, etc., without getting the same benefits from the suppliers. Hence, the gap keeps increasing. Therefore, sustainability needs to be managed to make sure that there is no bleeding. The policy makers of the country should keep opening ways to encourage the foreign currency remittances. We have too many red tapes when it comes to lending to foreign income-earning individuals. Most non-resident investors make use of bank facilities for security purposes. It’s just the legal framework that needs to be adjusted to support the risk factors.” 

On the topic of what sets the CCC Residences apart from others of its kind, the Director stated, “I wouldn’t hesitate to say that CCC is the only practically designed integrated living space in Colombo. A homeowner of the CCC Residences has access to all amenities simply by use of an elevator. Even a child can easily and safely enjoy the facilities. Furthermore, placing utmost importance on safety, the Residences are equipped with separate elevators, lobbies, car parks, access-controlled systems and personalized digital systems, ensuring maximum safety and privacy within the premises. Being a waterfront building it assures the best mix of views, ranging from Colombo’s finest lake, the Indian Ocean and the bustling metropolis, to the statuesque Lotus Tower, the Port City, and glorious sunrises and sunsets with lofty mountains in the distance. With close proximity to schools, hospitals and banks, as well as the main hotels and shopping malls, the homeowners have the pleasures of convenient city living. CCC is built in one of the most accessible locations in Colombo with absolute zero barriers for entry. The investment is on a total lifestyle. As the apartments are ready for occupancy, this is undoubtedly the safest investment for anyone who wants to buy a brand-new luxury apartment in Colombo to live in or as an investment.” 

“All units are outfitted with opulent and pristine finishing, with spacious living and dining areas, capturing the best of the surroundings and making one feel at home in a luxurious atmosphere. Two globally renowned architects, Aedes and Gensler undertook this venture with the assurance of offering international standards in every aspect, from the layouts and the colours, to the designs in the building’s exterior and interior. This is why, when it comes to the mall too, it was acknowledged by the community as the first mall of international standard in Sri Lanka. Likewise, the homeowners too, can experience living in dwellings that are on par with international standards and designed to provide the sensation of modern luxury”, concluded Hirushka, whilst explaining how the concept of modern luxury is captured in the designs of the CCC Residences.